Question Celebrity

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Celebrities often say in interviews that they'd like to have lots of kids, but, in fact, most stick to just one, sometimes two. In rarer cases, and sometimes involving Third World adoptions, three. Then there's the Mel Gibson clan (seven kids), or the Steven Spielberg tribe (one child from his first marriage, to Amy Irving, and five with Kate Capshaw).

The bias -- not only in Hollywood, but in almost all corners of middle- to upper-class America -- exults the perfect symmetry of a two-child life. A family with more than four children occasionally draws sneering judgment from the cultural elite; it looks messy, home-schooly, possibly even like the kind of family that deliberately doesn't watch television.

But despite their personal choices, H'wood types sure like to bring on the big broods when they're producing holiday movies. Though the Nativity is the ultimate only-child story, the modern retail vision of Christmas requires cozy houses crammed with kids, and this is why Hollywood trots out feel-good comedies such as "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" and "Yours, Mine & Ours" -- remakes of, or sequels to, or sequels to remakes of -- films of freakishly large or blended families. It's that longing so many of us have; a very Brady fetishizing of big clans, taking us back again and again to fictional suburban tribes to depict the elusive reward: more love than you could ever run out of.

So does it really matter that "Cheaper by the Dozen" patriarch Steve Martin has, in real life, no children? Or that his on-screen wife, Bonnie Hunt, who grew up with six siblings, also is not a parent? Meanwhile, "Yours, Mine & Ours" stars Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo -- who have a combined total of 18 kids in that flick -- each have one real-life child.

The Industry has always known that its stars' personal lives don't always emit the Norman Rockwell fuzziness it markets to us. The problem is, I can't think of very many movie families where only children (or the "standard" two) fare very well. Orphans

sometimes do heroic things, but most parented solo children in movies tend to be creepy, clairvoyant types who see dead people. Hollywood has made it clear: The perfect family is huge, living in a two-story house on an elm-lined street in the middle of Anytown, where it always snows -- lightly, just enough for sledding -- on Christmas Day. In other words, nowhere near L.A.

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